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Today on Tablet

A visit with the Antiguan prime minister, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz tells about that time a couple weeks ago when he was almost jailed in Antigua on suspicion of being a Mossad agent. Benny Morris analyzes Jewish terrorism from the Maccabees to the settlers. Mideast columnist Lee Smith uses the tools of literary theory to show how, in the Middle East, the same words can mean different things to different sides. If you ever want The Scroll to perform a Derridean deconstruction of itself, just let us know.

More Dubai Evidence Points You-Know-Where

Following the money to the Mossad

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The passport photos of six suspects.(Dubai police)

The New York Observer may have found yet further evidence—if distantly circumstantial—of Mossad involvement in the January 19 assassination of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. (To learn everything you need to know about the whole thing, click here.)

The interesting detail has to do with a New York City-based company called Payoneer, whose prepaid debit cards were reportedly used by many of the 27 (at last count) suspected assassins.

New York City-based … but heavily enmeshed in the world of the Israeli military and intelligence services. Payoneer is run by Yuval Tal, who served in an Israeli “elite combat unit.” An Israeli Air Force pilot was a first-round investor; the venture capital fund that led the following investment round did so under the hand of a military intelligence captain; a further round was led by a fund founded by a former IDF Special Forces man.

To an extent, of course, this is to be expected: when a country has universal conscription, then most entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, like most of everyone else, will have done military service. But these connections clearly tend toward the more covert, mysterious end of the spectrum.

Plus, look, it was—at least in part—the Mossad. It just was. (The Mossad, as always, will neither confirm nor deny involvement.)

New York City’s Assassination Connection [NY Observer]
Related: Murder in Dubai [Tablet Magazine]

Daybreak: Israel Apologizes for “Embarrassment”

Plus, “Heroes of the Holocaust,” nighttime raids, and a morality poll

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• Israel’s interior minister says he is “very sorry for the embarrassment” resulting from his government’s approval yesterday of 1,600 new E. J’lem homes as Joe Biden arrived in the country to support peace talks—but the approval is still in effect. Biden’s now trying to reassure the P.A. that all is not lost. [AP]

• British PM Gordon Brown has awarded medals to 27 countrymen who saved Jews from Nazis, calling them “Heroes of the Holocaust.” [Telegraph]

• Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has accused Israeli military police of arresting Palestinian minors, who are accused of throwing stones at settlers, in violent nighttime raids. [AP]

• AIPAC has taken the unusual step of sending every Congress member a “sharply worded letter” demanding an investigation into how $107 billion in federal grants has been awarded to companies that do business in Iran. [JTA]

• Less surprisingly, a poll finds that 74 percent of Israel’s religious Jews believe they are “more moral” than the general public. [Ynet]

Sundown: Maharat, A Rabbi, A Female Rabbi

Plus Eden in 3D, 36 months shall set you free, and more

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Now imagine it in 3D!(Wikimedia Commons)

• Days after nixing the term “Rabba” for ordained female Orthodox rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America agreed to the term “Maharat.” Agudath Israel called this “capitulation” “deeply dismaying.” [Press Release]

• David Kimche, a longtime Mossad member who rose to Foreign Ministry Director General, and who in later life backed the two-state solution and J Street, died at 82. [Laura Rozen]

• They’re planning a major-studio, 3D version of the Book of Genesis. Title: In The Beginning. Adam and Eve will be blue (just kidding). [Jewcy]

• Three suspects in the theft of Auschwitz’s “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign pleaded to up to three years’ jail-time. [Krakow Post/Vos Iz Neias?]

• The Egyptian government will fund restorations of local synagogues. [AP/Haaretz]

• Elinor Burkett, the Golda Meir biographer who made a Kanye-like splash at the Oscars, took her new schtick to Letterman (go to the three-minute mark). [ArtsBeat]

Biden Bashes Settlement Annoucement

Israeli move seems designed to antagonize

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Biden and Netanyahu today, looking thrilled.(David Furst/AFP/Getty Images)

Must be kind of awkward for Joe Biden. The vice president is currently in Israel as a goodwill gesture to reassure Israel that the United States still has its back, as well as to set the momentum for U.S.-mediated “proximity talks” with the Palestinians. And so Israel decided it would be a good time to announce 1,600 new East Jerusalem homes. The interior minister said the announcement, coinciding with Biden’s arrival, was procedural; that the homes themselves had been planned for three years; and that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself only just found out that the announcement was coming. A big coincidence, in other words.

I have no knowledge over whether all of that is true or not. Just as you have no knowledge whether I’m telling the truth when I say that I can sell you the Brooklyn Bridge for $1.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explicitly condemned the announcement. As did Biden: (more…)

The First Zionist

Nextbook Press author claims it’s poet Yehuda Halevi

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Hillel Halkin.(Yoav Etiel/Tablet)

Long Island’s Jewish Star runs an interview with Hillel Halkin, author of the new Nextbook Press biography Yehuda Halevi. (Nextbook Press is affiliated with Tablet Magazine.)

One of Halkin’s most interesting arguments in the book is that Halevi may be considered a proto-Zionist: arguably the first, in fact (Halevi lived in the 11th and 12th centuries). He expounds on that here:

He’s one of the first, or the first figure in the Diaspora to call for Jewish return to the land of Eretz Yisroel on a pre-messianic basis.

The rabbinical and traditional position has always been waiting for the Moshiach and it was the very dominant position in Halevi’s time. He took the position and was the first one to articulate it that Jews need not and should not wait for the messiah to return to [Israel].

It’s a Jewish obligation to return, it’s a Jewish initiative and not a divine one.


Q&A with Hillel Halkin
[Jewish Star]

Related: Yehuda Halevi [Nextbook Press]
Life of a Poet [Tablet Magazine]
The Pilgrim [Tablet Magazine]

The Holocaust’s Final Act

NPR visits Yatarny, Russia

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Wikimedia Commons(Wikimedia Commons)

European history buffs already know how fascinating the Russian province of Kaliningrad Oblast is. Sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea—it does not border any other part of Russia; the awesome term for such a thing is an exclave—it had been the German territory of East Prussia until after World War II, when Russia took it over and repopulated it with their own people. Königsberg, the native city of Immanuel Kant and other prominent Germans throughout history, became Kaliningrad. Etcetera.

A brief NPR story reports on another, less-discussed part of East Prussia/Kaliningrad’s history: Its village of Yantarny was the site of arguably the final event of the Holocaust. In January 1945, several days after the liberation of Auschwitz, a group of 7,000 Jews were marched to the Yantarny beach, ordered into the (unimaginably frigid) water, and shot to death.

There is a small memorial recognizing the event at the out-of-the-way beach; even it was not put in place until 2000, because, among other reasons, prevailing Soviet ideology discouraged the singling out of ethnic or religious groups that invariably takes place when you commemorate the Holocaust.

The story is excellent: Give it a listen.

Russian Village Haunted By A Hidden Holocaust Past [NPR]

Reform Movement Changes Intermarriage Strategy

Proposes special blessings instead of discouragement

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This was in the morning round-up, but it seems like big enough news to highlight: The Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents thousands of Reform Jewish clergy, two years ago convened a task force to study the question of intermarriage, and that group has now proposed moving away from discouraging Jews from marrying non-Jews and toward encouraging those Jews who do marry non-Jews to maintain Jewish homes.

The panel did not advocate changing Reform Judaism’s current rules, which leave the question of whether or not to officiate at interfaith weddings up to individual rabbis. (Conservative and Orthodox Judaism bar their rabbis from doing this; Reconstructionists also delegate that decision to each rabbi.) Rather, the panel suggests that the movement establish special blessings to codify and recognize these unions.

What do you guys think?

U.S. Reform Rabbis Suggest Welcoming Interfaith Couples [AP/Haaretz]

Today on Tablet

Benny Morris, Alan Dershowitz, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, prominent historian Benny Morris tries to get to the bottom of the decline and fall of the Israeli left-wing over the past two decades. Book critic Adam Kirsch reviews a biography of Moses Montefiore, discussing the Victorian Englishman’s cultivation of an international Jewish community. This week’s Emails of Zion features a much-forwarded Alan Dershowitz column calling for an Apartheid Week against not Israel, but Hamas. Feel free to forward The Scroll along to your friends as well.

Harvard Affiliate Lambasted Over Gaza Remarks

Kramer’s policies would lower birth rate

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Kramer.(MartinKramer.org)

A brouhaha has been brewing (brouhaha-ing?) over remarks that Martin Kramer—a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy currently serving out a visitor-ship at Harvard, as well as the president-designate of the forthcoming Shalem College in Israel—made at the Herzliya Conference in late February (covered for Tablet Magazine by Judith Miller).

Kramer spent most of his brief remarks establishing that violent radicalism is more or less inevitable in populations with a disproportionately high number of young-adult males. In the case of Gaza and its extremely high number of just such people—the consequence of an extremely high birth rate—Kramer proposes that aid agencies end pro-natal subsidies (which essentially guarantee care to future newborns) in order to lower that birthrate, lower the pool of violent young men, and bring peace:

eventually, this will happen among the Palestinians too, but it will happen faster if the West stops providing pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status. Those subsidies are one reason why, in the ten years from 1997 to 2007, Gaza’s population grew by an astonishing 40 percent. (more…)

Daybreak: Biden Backs Jewish State

Plus intermarriage blessings, George Mitchell in full, and more in the news

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Mitchell (L) and Netanyahu, Sunday.(Moshe Milner/GPO via Getty Images)

• After meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Vice President Joe Biden declared, “There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.” [WP]

• A Reform Judaism task force proposed the establishment of separate blessings for major life events, including marriages, involving non-Jewish spouses. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

• With U.S. support, Israel plans to build over 100 new homes in a West Bank settlement, saying they were planned before the construction freeze was in effect. [BBC]

• Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Israel had accepted his country as a Syrian mediator; Israel quickly denied this. [JPost]

• Both Israel and Syria disclosed yesterday, at an energy conference in France, that they wish to begin using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. [Haaretz]

• U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who would lead those Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks,” departed Israel for a time right as Biden arrived. A profile describes him as a man of “legendary patience.” [Politico]

Sundown: The Pope’s Jew

Plus, understanding through translation, the war on lox, and more

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Ron Artest.(Deadspin)

• A Jewish papal knight has become a loud voice within the Catholic Church opposing Holocaust-era pontiff Pius XII’s sainthood. [NYT]

• A small group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis declared lox to be unkosher due to a certain parasite that salmon can host. Most rabbis disagree, though, so stick that on your bagel and eat it. [Grub Street]

• Prominent Palestinian lawyer Elias Khoury was moved by his son’s murder by a Palestinian terrorist to pay for the translation of top Israeli writer Amos Oz into Arabic. [NYT]

• Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s anti-Semitism envoy and a one-time J Street board member, said that anti-Semitism’s foes need more non-Jews on their side. [JTA]

• Eight Republican senators expressed worry over appointing a U.S. ambassador to Syria for the first time in five years. [Laura Rozen]

• Los Angeles Laker star, skilled defender, and crazy person Ron Artest had the word “Defense” dyed into his (dyed-yellow) hair in several languages, including Hebrew. [Deadspin]

Below, the making of the haircut:

Biden Brings Hopes and High Stakes to Israel

The ‘proximity talks,’ and what happens if they fail

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Biden and wife, Jill, arrive in Israel today(David Furst/AFP/Getty Images)

Now that Vice President Joe Biden has touched down in Israel (and the Israeli military’s chief-of-staff has landed in Washington, D.C.), it’s time to take a slightly closer look at those indirect peace talks that, ostensibly, are about to kick off.

The idea: U.S. envoy George Mitchell will shuttle between the Israelis and Palestinians, with the ultimate goal of getting the two sides in the same room. Both the Arab League and the Palestine Liberation Organization okayed the talks despite the fact that Israel has not agreed to a full settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—something Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has previously insisted were a precondition to negotiations. (Ah, but these are only indirect peace negotiations, so he hasn’t technically backed down from that! Now perhaps you see the appeal of these “proximity talks.”)

(more…)

Oscars’ Kanye Moment Was a Golda Moment, Too

Meir biographer steals the scene

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Close observers of last night’s Oscars telecast might have noticed what seemed suspiciously like a Kanye moment: when the director of Best Short Documentary winner Music by Prudence, a man, went up to accept his award, another person, a woman, interrupted him soon after he had begun talking—it sounds like she says, “The man starts talking, isn’t that classic”—and proceeded to talk a bit about the film before they both left stage. The video is below.


Turns out
the incident had to do with some bad blood between the director, Roger Ross Williams, and the producer, Elinor Burkett.

Gal Beckerman, writing on the Forward’s Sisterhood blog, notes the “Jewish connection”: Burkett is the author of a Golda Meir biography.

I can’t put it better than Beckerman does: “Forget Kanye. Williams should have known better than to mess with anyone familiar in the ways of Golda.”

At The Oscars, Golda’s Biographer Pulls a Kanye West [The Sisterhood]

Iron Man

The remarkable Tony Judt

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Judt in 2006.(Charlie Rose)

Tablet Magazine contributing editor Wesley Yang has published an outstanding profile of Tony Judt, the brilliant public intellectual who has been stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, in New York. A part of me wants to single out what he says about Israel and his (in)famous 2003 essay calling for a single bi-national state; and, to be sure, what he has to say remains provocative and controversial. But I don’t want to seem to narrow this utterly remarkable man. Instead, I’d like to point to what he says about his forthcoming short book on the need for social democracy:

“I am a little caught between satisfaction at my newly increased reach and mild irritation at the reason for it,” he says. “I understand the sense in which it seems as though I am in a hurry. But as you’ll see when you read the book, I am quite convinced that the urgency lies in the external world and all I am doing is drawing attention to it.”

Read the whole thing.

The Liveliest Mind in New York [New York]
Earlier: In and Out of Love With Zionism

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